Dealing with a diagnosis

Image: Dealing with a diagnosis

In this session of Caregiver Tip Tuesday we look at how to deal with the diagnosis of a loved one.

Your loved one has just received a very scary diagnosis. What happens now? Are you going to be able to cope? What will be expected of you from your loved one? From the rest of the family? From professionals involved with their treatment? From you? How much time and energy do you have to give? Can you do it? Will you get any help? Will your loved one accept your help? Will they be able to cope and cooperate, or will they fight the process at every twist and turn?

Feeling overwhelmed yet?

Confusing emotions whilst searching for answers to what seems like an endless number of questions floating through your mind, and then juggling those emotions to focus on learning new skills by which to handle it all can be daunting. How does one do it? One step at a time.

Believe it or not, receiving a diagnosis for both you and the patient means you have both suffered a loss. Both of you need to walk through the grieving process, each in your own way, until you arrive at a place of being able to productively cope with the reality of your diagnosis.

Let's review the five stages of grieving: Shock, Sadness, Anger, Bargaining, and Acceptance.

I also need to point out that the grieving process is just that – a process. There is no right or wrong way to pass through each stage or a prescribed length of time. This will be a very individual process and in all likelihood your process will look very different from that of your loved ones.

For the purposes of this blog, I would like to briefly deal with the first few stages, Shock, Sadness, and Anger.

The shock or denial that this even happening, or the sadness, or the various forms of anger, can affect you differently on any given day. Trying to accept where you are and finding a moment of privacy to examine or express how you're feeling can be key. You may think that you're angry with your loved one and then feel guilty about that anger. That anger however, is more likely about the diagnosis, and the impact that it's having on you both. In turn, your loved one may also be very angry and struggling with the shock of the diagnosis, and not know where to direct their anger.

Do not discount the power that fear plays in feeding anger and sadness, as it can be the true culprit behind an outburst. When the shock and sadness of the diagnosis becomes overwhelming, that kind of anger can feel much more empowering than facing the reality. Chances are good that everyone involved will be passing back and forth through this form of anger and sadness at differing points and in their own way.

The trick is to find a way for each person to safely express his or her feelings without attacking whomever is within range. As soon possible, have everyone agree to the same action plan. Simple ground rules can be that you remove yourself from the situation if you are going to say something you may later regret. Going to a safe place of complete privacy and letting the feelings of anger, overwhelming sadness or fear flow from you can be very cathartic. Do not self-edit or be logical – this is a time to purge and release yourself from the emotions that are hurting you. As long as you are not hurting yourself or others – unleash that pain and fury! You'll feel much the better for it.

And if you didn't make it out of the room before you exploded? Sincere apologies and making amends is your only recourse, and not making it a habit.

In my next blog, I will give you some suggestions for handling the guilt, anxiety, and anger as a result of becoming a family caregiver. I use many of these suggestions with my own clients, and have found them effective and productive for more than just these situations. As well, I will try to answer some of the questions I posed at the beginning of this blog.

Until next time, take very gentle care of yourself!

Patricia Butler is a Physiotherapist, has had a long standing career in life coaching and development consulting. Over the years she has helped a number of caregivers and patients through various life altering situations. Her motto? "Don't wait for a crisis. The smaller the mountain, the easier it is to climb." Patricia will be blogging on a number of topics including life transitions, healing, communication issues, and positive lifestyles changes.